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The Mustangers

The Mustangers

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The Mustangers

Longueur:
349 pages
4 heures
Sortie:
May 28, 2019
ISBN:
9780786045044
Format:
Livre

Description

WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Champion cowboy Ben Smith is on trial for assault and battery, destruction of property, and intent to commit murder.
 
His real troubles are just beginning.
 
One of the last of the great American cowboys, Ben Smith is a three-time rodeo champion with one last chance to take a stand. Injured in a rodeo fall, he heads home at the age of forty to the Little Brawny Ranch, where he befriends the son of the Big Brawny’s owner. Ben agrees to show little Jimmy the ropes: the rigors of ranching, the rewards of hard work, and the awe-inspiring beauty of the wild mustang herds running free. But when they learn the horses are being rounded up—for the slaughterhouse—the rawhide cowboy and skinny greenhorn strike back, each in his own way, to save the mustangs. But there is the inevitable, violent, historic showdown. Ablaze with action, humanity, humor, and a noble cause, The Mustangers is Andrew J. Fenady at the top of his game.
 
“Outstanding.”
Trail Dust Magazine on The Christmas Trespassers
 
“If you want to escape into a western by a one-of-a-kind storyteller, here’s the perfect stocking-stuffer.”
Roundup Magazine
Sortie:
May 28, 2019
ISBN:
9780786045044
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Andrew J. Fenady has published many novels, including The Summer of Jack London and The Rebel Johnny Yuma. He owns a production company in Los Angeles and is a member of the Western Writers of America. He lives in Los Angeles.

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The Mustangers - Andrew J. Fenady

younger.

Chapter One

Flying over the rugged crests of the western countryside, the silver Gulfstream jet streamed through protruding peaks.

Patrick Merrill walked out of the pilot’s cabin and closed the door, then paused. There were those who said he had a striking resemblance to the actor Tony Curtis. Merrill didn’t mind, didn’t mind at all. In fact, he agreed.

He smiled and looked down at the leggy, blue-eyed, freckled, blond attendant sitting in a front chair, reading Life magazine. The small metal plate pinned to her tunic identified her as Trudy Ryan.

Merrill pointed back to the pilot’s cabin.

Just checked the compass. You can relax, Tru; we’re right on course.

She glanced up, semi-smiled, and went back to Life.

Unfazed. Patrick Merrill continued to smile. He smiled a lot, like he was kidding the whole world, including himself—but not his boss, Senator Jimmy Deegan.

Senator Jimmy Deegan sat at a small desk making notes on a yellow legal pad, with a slim open briefcase on the desk. Near the briefcase, a framed photograph of a handsome redheaded woman and two young sons.

In his midforties, Senator Deegan, shirtsleeved, with a rugged face, muscled build, and a few needles of gray at the temples, looked up at his approaching assistant.

Senator, the pilot says that we just crossed the state line. Your state, Senator. Be landing within the hour.

Thanks, Patrick.

Can I have the attendant get you some coffee?

No, thanks. He nodded toward the photograph. Mary Frances says I drink too much coffee.

"I know I do. I’ll pass, too." Merrill turned and started to walk toward the attendant.

But I do have the time and inclination for an overdue Montecristo. Why don’t you sit down, Patrick?

Don’t want to interrupt you, Senator.

All done, m’boy, take a seat. An unlit cigar rested in an unused ashtray. Senator Deegan lit the Montecristo, placed the legal pad into the briefcase, then lifted and looked at the photograph.

You know, Patrick, next month will be our tenth anniversary.

Congratulations, Senator. Too bad she couldn’t come along.

With two young ones and expecting a third, Dr. Davies prescribed no flying. We’re hoping for a girl this time. Even got a name picked out . . . Shannon. Mary Frances is Irish, you know.

You’re a lucky man, sir. It isn’t easy to find a girl like her.

You bet.

Me, I’m waiting for a girl like that to find me . . . in the meanwhile . . . Merrill looked up front toward the attendant.

Senator Deegan chuckled, puffed on the Montecristo, put the photograph into the briefcase, and looked down out the window.

You were born around here, weren’t you, Senator?

No, born in the East, but I used to spend the summers here on my father’s ranch, the Big Brawny. In those days it was on the rim of the Dust Bowl.

Dust Bowl?

Yep. And you, Patrick, where were you born?

In the East, he smiled. "The far East. New Jersey. Passaic. But seems I heard about the Dust Bowl . . . saw a movie about it once on television. Can’t remember the name . . ."

The Grapes of Wrath.

Yeah. All that happened a long time ago, didn’t it?

Well. The senator shook his head and smiled. It wasn’t all that long ago, at least it doesn’t seem like it, during the thirties.

Still, I guess that things have changed a lot since then.

In a movie, John Wayne once said, ‘Things usually change for the better.’ I’d like to think he was right.

The senator looked out of the window again. The plane was flying lower now. He pointed below.

Patrick Merrill leaned and looked down.

A herd of horses galloping across the terrain. The speeding shadow of the jet approached . . . crossed . . . and passed by the herd running wild and free.

Horses. Merrill smiled. I guess there’ll always be horses.

Those aren’t horses. Not just horses.

They’re not?

No. You city fellas can’t be blamed for not knowing the difference, but those are mustangs. And in a way that’s why I’m making this trip.

I don’t understand.

No reason why you should unless I tell you. The senator looked at his wristwatch. We’ve got some time yet. You want to hear?

You bet. Yes, sir.

Well, then, light up one of your coffin spikes and I’ll bend your ear.

Patrick Merrill reached inside his suit coat jacket, pulled out a half-empty—or half-full—pack of Pall Mall cigarettes, lit one, and leaned back to listen.

It started when I met a cowboy named Ben Smith.

The senator thought a moment, then proceeded.

No, I guess it started before. He took a draw from the Montecristo. I’ll tell it like a story I might write about him someday when I’m through with politics—and vice versa.

* * *

A rodeo arena in Globe, Arizona—band music—the stands overflowing with spectators—men, women, and children. Flags, balloons, streamers. Rodeo clowns performing in the arena, prelude to the next event.

Beer flowed and was swallowed from the bottle, the can, and paper cup. There were hip flasks left over from Prohibition and the early thirties, when hard cash was rare in the cities, states, and country. But there was prize money to be won during the Depression of the midthirties.

Ben Smith had ridden thousands of broncos at hundreds of rodeos. He was no stranger to Globe, where he broke some of Tom Horn’s records that people said would last hundreds of years.

But this time it was different.

There’s an old saying There never was a horse that couldn’t be rode—there never was a cowboy that couldn’t be throwed.

Ben Smith made his way toward the chutes.

Three of the most interested spectators stood watching while he walked closer to one of the gates.

Two friends. One, the opposite.

The friends, Quirt Dawson and Stretch Monahan.

Quirt, lanky, nearly six and a half feet tall, almost a couple of decades past his rodeoing days, with a broken beak that had been struck by fists and the ground. And even in these lean days, there were scattered few ranchers, racehorse owners, and speculators in this area who didn’t pay for Quirt Dawson’s appraisal before shelling out hard cash for horseflesh.

Stretch Monahan, former jockey, and a good one, until he started spending prize money on booze, broads, and betting on the bangtails. He got the nickname years ago when he enlisted in the Fighting 69th during the War to End All Wars. The recruiting sergeant asked, Weight?

One hundred twenty . . . more or less.

Height?

Five foot two . . . when I stretch.

From then on, Danny became Stretch Monahan. Now, instead of riding racehorses, Stretch Monahan groomed and timed them.

Spud Tatum, the third interested party, was a young cowboy contestant full of himself, and himself only. He could sit a bronc well enough, but the size of his Stetson kept swelling in order to keep up with his hubris.

The announcer’s voice gusted through the speakers.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . and cowboys and cowgirls, the next rider is number thirteen, Ben Smith, riding that dreaded terror of the circuit, Basher.

Ben Smith was in the chute and saddled. Tall, lean, broad of shoulders, with a creased face, clear, narrow blue eyes, and a chiseled chin line, leaning forward on Basher.

The announcer’s voice heightened dramatically.

You all know Ben is a three-time All-’Round Champion Cowboy . . . a living legend of the rodeo circuit.

More like ‘ancient history,’ Spud snorted. Ol’ bones was lucky to step up on that horse.

And you, flannelmouth, Stretch looked up at him, are a horse’s ass.

Yeah, button up, tinhorn. Quirt looked down at him. You couldn’t carry Ben’s spurs.

Spud Tatum grinned.

We’ll just see who carries home the prize money.

The announcer was now at full steam on the public-address system.

Ben Smith in the saddle, now ready to ride on Basher!

Ben Smith nodded toward the gateman.

Outside! Ben declared.

The gate swung open—the animal leaped into the arena as the crowd roared. Hooves springing into the air, pounding, forward, scraping against the fence, snorting, sunfishing . . .

. . . all in less than five seconds. Ben was thrown off.

Ben’s head crashed hard, too hard, through the fence rail—spectators stood—some screamed—some turned away—then stunned silence.

Rodeo clowns and other cowboys rushed to the aid of the unconscious man.

There never was a cowboy that couldn’t be throwed.

Chapter Two

In the first aid room, Ben was conscious, barely, and still disoriented, as they all come into focus.

Dr. Blake Lewis, a big man with a gentle touch and a bedside smile, who had been through it all too many times, for better or worse.

Deek Evans, the rodeo owner, friend and foster father to Ben since Ben won his first contest at his first ride at this same arena in the early postwar years.

And, of course, Quirt Dawson and Stretch Monahan.

Ben looked around and did his best to raise his bandaged head from the bed. It was not easy.

Dr. Lewis placed his hand on his patient’s shoulder.

How you doing, Ben?

His patient managed a smile.

You tell me, Doc.

You were sent for, but you didn’t go. You’re all together, but that fence isn’t.

That hammerhead . . . Ben coughed. . . . lived up to his name.

You gave him a ride, son, Deek Evans said.

Yeah, Ben replied. A short one.

* * *

Night at the Appaloosa Saloon, the bar was populated with men and women in western attire at the counter and at tables—drinking, playing cards, pinball machines—smoke crawled upward toward the tin ceiling to the tune of western music from the blinking jukebox near one of the circulating fans suspended from above. Some of the jukebox lyrics were audible, some were lost due to the cacophony of conversation, laughter, and alcoholic intake of the customers.

At a table not far from the entrance, Ben, Deek Evans, Quirt Dawson, and Stretch Monahan were drinking beer. Ben’s head was still bandaged but it didn’t prevent him from wearing his Stetson.

Irene Swinderski, one of the waitresses, strawberry blond, hazel-eyed, a wee mite thick, but fetching, dressed in jeans cut off above the knees, pink boots, and tight-fitting denim shirt, was weaving her way around tables and customers. Not coincidentally, the lyric refrain from the jukebox accompanied her tour . . . Good night, Irene, good night . . .

Hey, Irene, one of the customers stood up from a table and shouted, they’re playing our song!

"Not our song, bub, my song," Irene Swinderski shot back, and kept on traveling toward her destination.

How’s the beer supply, boys?

Quirt lifted a near-empty mug.

Close to desperate, Miss Irene.

Well, that’s my department. I can do something about that. She pointed to Ben’s bandaged head. Would you want me to toss a couple of aspirin in that beer, cowboy?

Shot of bourbon might be better, Stretch suggested.

No, thanks, Ben smiled. Just a straight mug of Lucky Lager, if you please.

I try to. Irene Swinderski nodded and walked away.

Some try, she succeeds, Stretch snorted. Or so I’m told.

There was applause from the area near the entrance as Spud Tatum strode in, one hand full of money and the other arm wrapped around the upper body of a voluptuous Valkyrie who could start or stop a human stampede.

Spud Tatum nodded and smiled at the hand clappers, then smiled even broader as he approached, then paused at the table where Ben Smith and his friends sat.

Evenin’, gents, then at the rodeo owner, Mr. Deek Evans, you run the best rodeo west of the hundredth meridian, yeah-bo, most prize money I won this year—or any year, then waved the money toward Quirt. I told you, didn’t I, Quirt, ol’ dirt?

Quirt, ol’ dirt didn’t respond, and Spud continued and squeezed the Valkyrie’s bare shoulder.

Hey, you fellas all know Wanda, here?

All the fellas nodded.

Wanda nodded back.

Sure, I know the fellas.

Spud grinned toward Ben Smith.

How you doin’, ol’-timer?

Still tickin’.

The winner winked at his companion. said, Yeah, more than a little too loud, but windin’ down, I’d say, and laughed.

Quirt rose in a quick, aggressive move, but Ben took hold of Quirt’s arm for just a beat.

Spud stopped laughing and turned toward Wanda.

Come on, you sweet bag o’ sugar. We got some celebratin’ to do.

He commenced to guide her across the room. The way she walked was an anatomical marvel.

She knows what she’s got, all right, Stretch noted, and how to use it.

I knew a filly like that in Wichita. Quirt rubbed his chin. Sexy, but not romantic.

Spud Tatum’s voice roared at the bartender.

Drinks for the house on the big winner!

At Ben’s table, Deek Evans shook his head in disgust.

Stupid loudmouth.

Diarrhea of the jawbone, Stretch added.

He’s young, Ben smiled.

He won’t always be young, Quirt said, but he’ll always be stupid. That’s something he’ll never outgrow, and finished his beer.

Irene Swinderski approached with a tray loaded with mugs of beer.

Here you be, gents. You heard what the bronc squeezer said. This round’s on him. Drink up, anyhow.

After the mugs were distributed, Deek Evans lifted his and nodded.

Well, Ben, good health and good fortune. They drank.

Yep, Ben said, and speaking of health . . . Deek, I thank you for everything, but I’m hanging ’em up. Through rodeoing.

Say it isn’t so, Ben, from Quirt.

Pay no ’tention to that two-bit tinhorn, from Stretch.

You sure, Ben? from Deek Evans.

Won my first prize money from you, Deek, but I been through for some time. Gonna quit while I’m still in one piece and can look back with a little pride.

Ben, some of your records’ll never be broke, from Quirt.

But some of my bones will be.

Ben, Evans countered, just ’cause you’re not going to ride . . . well, your name’s still a draw, a big draw. I can give you a job, a good job . . . be pleased to . . . you’ve earned it.

Thanks, but I don’t want you to give me anything. Going home.

Home, Quirt said. For some of us ‘home’ is just another word for ‘saddle.’

Not for me. Not anymore.

Where, then? from Stretch.

The Little Brawny. Fair-sized ranch. Just enough land. Just enough challenge.

And family, Ben? Deek Evans asked.

No.

Well, you got more friends than there are fiddlers in hell, Deek Evans smiled. Need a stake, Ben?

Ben Smith shook his head and took a swallow of beer.

"Thanks, no, Deek. I’m fine.

As Tatum and Wanda approached, it was hard to determine which of the two was laughing louder.

Whoa, Nellie! Tatum pulled Wanda to an abrupt stop at Ben’s table. I wanna bid adios to these here hoot owls. He made a mock bow to the table. Well, good seein’ you old cabin robbers, but Wanda and me got to make a couple more stops . . . he glanced at smiling Wanda . . . before we turn in and mate.

Silence from the cabin robbers.

A well-seasoned, white-bearded westerner hesitatingly approached the table, looking at Ben Smith. The stranger carried a slim autograph book and fountain pen.

Excuse me, all. But Mr. Smith, sir, they told me you were in here. Missed you at a couple of other rodeos. Come all the way from Casper, Wyoming, to add your autograph to my collection before it’s too late . . . for me, not for you. Would you do me the honor, sir?

Ben nodded.

My honor, Mr. . . . ?

Bailey, Austin Bailey.

Ben took the book and wrote across a page, while the others watched, then he handed the pen and the still-open book to Austin Bailey.

There you are, Mr. Bailey.

Mr. Bailey’s hand shook slightly as he gazed at the page, then at Ben.

Thank you, Mr. Smith . . . and thanks for the sentiment that you wrote. I surely appreciate . . .

Spud Tatum cleared his throat and smiled.

I s’pose you want my autograph. I’m Spud Tatum, you know.

Yes, I know, Bailey nodded, but I only collect signatures from All-’Round Champion Cowboys. Thanks again, Mr. Smith. He turned and slowly walked toward the entrance.

Strange ol’ coot, Tatum shrugged, then turned to Wanda. Well, come on, sweet bag o’ sugar, time’s a-wastin’. Then one parting look at Ben Smith.

By the way, ol’ Ben, I just put another nickel in the jukebox for a song that’ll be comin’ on about now, dedicated to you.

As Spud and Wanda made their way toward the door, Tatum looked back and smiled.

Young Gene Autry’s voice swelled through the jukebox.

. . . Git along, little doggie, get along, git along.

I’m heading for the last roundup.

Chapter Three

The wonder of it all.

Ben Smith was on a journey of a little less than a thousand miles and a lifetime of a little more than forty years.

After a quarter of a century, weary, bone bruised, now without the bandage, but wearing his Stetson, the three-time All-’Round Champion Cowboy, instead of on a horse, sat behind a steering wheel.

He had slipped into his already loaded pickup in Globe before first light at four a.m., so as to avoid good-intentioned friends and strangers with a volley of farewells and amens, till we meet agains—as if he ever would with most of them again.

Times change. People change. And when you’re traveling, the land changes. Especially in the West.

And Ben had time to think while he found out all over again what a big country this is—and no two places are exactly alike.

The wonder of it all.

How they survived their journeys, just over a hundred years ago—those who survived—on horseback, on mules, on wagon trains. On foot.

This same terrain that Ben was crossing from south to north, but a hundred years ago the varied voyagers were compassing east to west.

Westward from the Mississippi across the open plains where buffalo had ranged and were commissary for Indians—then slaughtered by invaders—by the army, railroaders, hunters, sportsmen—for the delicacy of tongue, the fashion of robe, the ornament of horn on walls of easterners who had never seen a live buffalo.

Until the Indian commissary was empty, as were the Indian bellies.

Through the white-hot heat of scorched desert sands—the winter frost and blinding snow of sky sierras—the deep and cavernous canyons—across raging rivers and bleak horizons.

With desperate hope ahead and wooden crosses on lonely mounds to mark, for more than a few, journey’s end.

And for the descendants of some of those pilgrims who were making another journey even now—Okies moving west toward California . . . on rattling Fords, creaking Chevy pickups, on bicycles, and on foot, leaving behind them abandoned skeletal houses leaning windward, along with thin needling dust that had savaged once-fertile land, leaving behind the Dust Bowl.

Ben Smith crisscrossed some of these vagrant caravans crawling west while he drove north through that devastated Dust Bowl.

During the so-called Great War, he had seen and been a bloody part of men in opposing trenches doing their damnedest to destroy one another. But they had weapons—guns and grenades and cannon—and a cause—to end all wars.

But these were men, women, and children, babies, ragged and half-starved with no weapons, except the will to move on—and to survive.

If Ben had ever felt sorry for himself, now, at the sight of these poor, oppressed migrants, he realized how sorrow was spelled.

He had suffered his share of lumps, but unlike those vagrants, he had some idea of what was ahead—the Little Brawny—Fair-sized ranch. Just enough land. Just enough challenge.

One door closes. Another door opens.

Even though he didn’t know the extent of the challenge part, compared to those Okies, he was one damn lucky cowboy.

That’s right, he told himself, one damn lucky cowboy driving in the comparative comfort of a 1934 Chevy pickup, equipped even with a radio that had been accompanying him with dozens and dozens of country-western songs. Words and music that all seemed to blend together—until he crossed his state’s border.

Then there came a song with words and music he had never heard before, titled, You Can’t Ever Go Home Again.

A man’ll come home

to the place of his youth

in search of the things left behind.

He looks for a place,

for a smile on a face.

But the last mile’s the hardest to find.

I’ve known the high country

where lone eagles fly,

the desolate no-path terrain.

And now that my years

are all winters, I try

to call back the summers in vain.

So don’t you know,

don’t you know, my friend.

Know the hollow cry

of the lonesome man.

You can’t ever go home again, again.

You can’t ever go home again.

Ben turned off the radio.

After listening to that, he didn’t want to hear any more songs for a while, and he thought to himself.

Two of the most unpredictable, uncertain times in your life are when you leave home and when you come back.

Chapter Four

The terrain was different now, gentler, greener, and more hospitable.

The front of Ben’s pickup was different, too, and less hospitable.

Steam from the radiator curled above the fore of the hood, and vaporous clouds drifted toward

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